So, my three-month sabbatical is coming to an end, and I find myself at the point of wishing it could go on for another few weeks and also itching to get back into life at St Anne’s. Though overdue, I fully recognise that it has also been a huge privilege to be able to take this amount of time off- something I could not have done with such confidence without knowing that St Anne’s was in the supremely competent, caring and efficient hands of Fr Paul and Jake our administrator. I am indebted to them both, as I am also to Churchwardens John and Nigel and to Fr David, who along with support from Fr Jim, Revd Lindsay Meader and Canon Peter Babington, have all put in extra work to ensure you barely noticed I was away! In my absence John Witts chaired a PCC meeting, which I gather successfully dealt with a lot of business in an hour and a half -proving that at St Anne’s there are people I am not only thankful for but obviously have something to learn from!
It was good to have some time simply to rest, catch up on sleep, and take long walks on the beach with Bella, which even in January in Broadstairs can be as beautiful as bracing. It was also a time to experience what is the reality for most Christians, whose week and lives are not preoccupied by being members of the church. Clergy can forget that Sunday worship is both a welcome change of gear and focus from normal daily life for many people, but that it can be quite hard to fully engage with when it doesn’t flow from or into the rest of life. It was good to go back to being ‘in the pew’.
The middle and probably high point of the sabbatical was travelling to Indonesia through February to study Javanese shadow puppetry, an art form that goes back over a thousand years and is of real spiritual as well as cultural significance. Not only did I learn more about a form of puppetry that has fascinated me since I was a teenager, but I learned a fair bit about myself too. Travelling alone in a very unfamiliar culture always gives us the opportunity to move out of our comfort zones, and as someone who is naturally wary of risk I am pleased to say that I surprised myself with my ability to embrace some of the situations I faced. I loved every minute of it and happily lived to tell the tale.
The final part, from where I’m writing now, is a three-week stay with the Anglican sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage in Oxfordshire. Here, along with being well fed in lovely surroundings, I’m rediscovering the value and importance of regular prayer shared with others, of having stillness and quiet- within as well as around me. This has enabled me to do some reading and reflection and there’s a lot to process that will bear fruit gradually and over time, rather than result in me coming back a different person- desirable in some ways as that may be!
If you would like to know more about my time away I will be doing a ‘show and tell’ for half an hour after church on Sunday 16th April at 12:45pm, and at 4pm during Tuesday Tea on 2nd May when I will read some passages from my journal, share some more photos than those you may have seen on Facebook and show you the beautiful puppets that simply had to come home with me.
I look forward to seeing you as we celebrate the great events of Holy Week and Easter together.